Swiss has premiered its new first class suites, which will begin to appear in its fleet from March. Business Traveller was in Zurich for the unveiling.

The first class cabin will be fitted to the carrier’s forthcoming fleet of A330-300 aircraft, the first of which will come into service at the end of March on a “North Atlantic” route – the exact destination has yet to be announced. India is likely to be the next destination to see the new cabin.

The planes will also feature a new fully-flat business class product (see online news, May 22, 2008), and a revamped economy class seat, details of which are due to be unveiled soon. Swiss is gradually replacing its A330-200 fleet with the A330-300 aircrafts between now and 2011, and says that once completed it will be the only airline in the world to offer a first class cabin on all of its long-haul aircraft.

Swiss has nicknamed the new seating “a suite above the clouds” but has eschewed the completely enclosed style favoured by Jet Airways, Emirates and others in favour of a product designed to “balance openness with privacy”.

The carrier has kept the forward-facing 1-2-1 configuration of the previous model, and has a total of eight seats in the cabin, but this new incarnation feels much more private, with a full-length divider that slides up electronically between the two middle seats, and a second privacy screen that slides sideways out from the aisle side of the seat. The idea is to allow the passenger privacy when sleeping or working but equally enjoy a greater sense of space when this is preferred.

The seat converts electronically to connect with an ottoman – which, unlike the old seat, can now accommodate a guest for dining – creating a 203-cm fully-flat bed comparable with the old first class product. Like the new business class product, the seat includes an air cushion across the entire length of the seat, allowing the passenger to adjust the pneumatic pressure as desired.

Other seat stats are: seat pitch 211cm; seat width 56cm (71cm in bed mode with the armrests lowered); and IFE screen 58cm, which Swiss says is currently the largest available. The sturdy-looking table measures 66cm by 63.5cm.

There are several storage compartments, including a large space under the ottoman for luggage, and for business travellers there are USB, iPod and electrical power sockets, suitable for most European and US devices. The IFE is controlled via a touchscreen controller, although the position of the TV screen above the ottoman means passengers cannot watch films with another guest.

The colour scheme for the new cabin is a mixture of slate and light wood, and reflects the design elements of the recently introduced Swiss lounges at Zurich and other destinations.

Asked if the new generation of fully-flat business class products on many long-haul airlines meant there was less of a market for a first class product, CEO Chistoph Franz said: “Swiss needs first class. We have an excellent tradition of providing first class, and it’s a necessity as it offers more indivuality and ‘exclusive travelling’. This new seat goes beyond business class – there is a very small but exclusive market segment that it will serve.”

He added that rolling out the new cabins across the entire Swiss long-haul fleet would provide customers with consistency, and that the airline did not intend to charge more for the new suite product.

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